Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 9, 2004)
After 1987’s Robocop emerged as a surprisingly clever and innovative take on its genre, fans like myself expected a lot from its sequel. 1990’s Robocop 2 lost the participation of director Paul Verhoeven as well as writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner. However, it retained the main cast members and brought in veteran director Irvin Kershner and notable comic book writer/artist Frank Miller.
The latter inspired the most optimism in me, as I loved Miller’s work via titles like Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns. Too bad all hope for Robocop 2 became unfounded, as the sequel offered nothing more than a cheesy echo of the original.
Like the first flick, Robocop 2 opens with a “Media Break” that gives us some basic background information. We learn that designer drug “Nuke” plagues Detroit, and evil Cain (Tom Noonan) leads the Nuke cult. The Detroit police are on strike, but oddly, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) - the group that runs the force - seems to want this to continue. Crime runs rampant, and almost only Robocop (Peter Weller) remains on the prowl.
He hunts the creator of Nuke and takes out a lab. Robo also stalks his old family: wife Ellen (Angie Bolling) and son Jimmy (Clinton Austin Shirley). She sues OCP because of the emotional distress this causes.
OCP forecloses on Detroit and plans to take over the whole city if Mayor Kuzak (Willard Pugh) can’t pay them. OCP wants this so they can remake Detroit in their own way. They also create Robocop 2, a new model with some glitches, as they all go nuts from emotional issues. OCP needs to find another candidate ala Murphy with the same strengths, and Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer) heads up the hunt.
In the meantime, Robo and partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) track Nuke-peddling youngster Hob (Gabriel Damon). He shot Robo earlier and triggered flashbacks to his son. Nuke-addicted Officer Duffy (Stephen Lee) helps Hob and his crew, as he sells out the cops for money and drugs. Robo gets the location of Cain from Duffy but Hob gets away.
Robo follows to Cain’s hideout, where they halt our hero and crack him open. They toss the pieces on the picket line and leave Robo barely alive, but OCP doesn’t want to pay for repairs. They eventually do so, though Faxx continues the search for Robocop 2. She comes to feel psychopaths would work best, and when Cain buys it, he becomes the personality of Robo 2. The original Robo needs to deal with him, stop the spread of Nuke, expose the nastiness at OCP, and generally save the day.
I saw Robocop 2 theatrically back in 1990. While I know I didn’t like it, I didn’t recall much else. Lord, how could I forget something so cheesy? When I started the DVD, I should have known I’d get a terrible movie based on the theme music that plays over the menu. The score snippet includes a high-pitched shriek of “Robocop!” along with the instrumental. Yikes, does this sound silly!
And the movie itself follows suit. Although I was tempted to watch all three Robocop flicks back-to-back-to-back in one long session, I chose to skip the first film and save it for last. I did this to let myself view the two sequels with a more open mind. I love the original movie and didn’t want my impressions of the sequels to be tainted by such direct comparisons.
It didn’t help. For one, the script jumps all over the place and lacks almost any coherence. The original movie’s heart came from Robo’s search for humanity, and the sequel seems to attempt to further explore that theme at the start. We see Robo’s stalking of his family and the pain on both sides, but then this thread simply vanishes.
2 can’t even figure out a way to examine that theme logically. Murphy’s widow sues OCP due to emotional distress, but she then visits Robo and views him compassionately. Huh? Essentially the movie simplifies the emotional arc of the first flick into simple soundbites.
Other elements came and went at random. The concept of the foreclosure on Detroit popped in and out whenever the movie felt it was necessary, but it played no more significant role than that. And why did the OCP folks show the Old Man the film of all the failed Robocop 2s? It makes no sense, and the scene exists only to give the audience the perverse attempted comedy of the sequence; it doesn’t fit into the film logically at all.
2 presents a more comic book feel than the first flick, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. It makes Robo more of a stereotypical superhero without much depth. The movie seems campier and without the same emotional arc and pathos.
Much of the criticism leveled upon the film relates to its portrayal of children. The young character of Hob seems terribly anti-social and nasty, and we also see scenes such as the one with a violent gang of Little Leaguers. 14 years later, these decisions continue to upset folks, but I must admit they don’t really bother me. The whole movie is so tacky and over the top that these instances don’t come across anything unusually problematic. So much of the flick presents such callous and casual gratuitous violence that these bits aren’t anything worse than the rest.
Does Robocop 2 do anything well? I must admit I think the scenes with Robo’s altered programming are mildly amusing. He becomes more personable and engages in small talk, both of which don’t match his normally blunt personality.
The scenes aren’t great, but they exist as a small oasis of fun in an otherwise tacky flick. Robocop 2 exists as a crummy and tacky experience without much redeeming value. It sullies the reputation of the original and that’s about it.